The Justice Department took the legally and politically momentous step of lodging federal criminal charges against former President Donald J. Trump, multiple people familiar with the matter said on Thursday, following a lengthy investigation of his handling of classified documents that he took with him upon leaving office and then obstructing the government’s efforts to reclaim them.
The indictment, filed in Federal District Court in Miami, is the first time in American history a former president has faced federal charges. It puts the nation in an extraordinary position, given Mr. Trump’s status not only as a onetime chief executive but also as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to face President Biden, whose administration will now be seeking to convict his potential rival.
It was not immediately known what specific charges Mr. Trump is facing. One person briefed on the matter said there were seven counts.
Mr. Trump is expected to surrender himself to authorities in Miami on Tuesday, according to a person close to him and his own post on Truth Social.
The indictment, filed by the office of the special counsel Jack Smith, came about two months after local prosecutors in New York filed more than 30 felony charges against Mr. Trump in a case connected to a hush money payment to a porn star in advance of the 2016 election.
Mr. Smith is also investigating Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging efforts to retain power after his election loss in 2020, and how those efforts led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Public filings in the documents case have painted a picture of Mr. Trump repeatedly stonewalling efforts by both the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department to retrieve the trove of hundreds of sensitive government records that the former president took with him from the White House and kept mostly at his private club and residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.
While the nature of a few of the documents found in Mr. Trump’s possession is known — he had held onto letters from the North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un, for example — it remains unclear what other classified materials were found at Mar-a-Lago and what national security damage his possession of them caused, if any.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly characterized the investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt, and in recent weeks his lawyers have sought to raise what they say are issues of prosecutorial misconduct.
Here’s what to know:
The indictment reaches back to the end of Mr. Trump’s term in January 2021, when the documents — many of which were said to be in the White House residence — were packed in boxes along with clothes, gifts, photos and other material, and shipped by the General Services Administration to Mar–a-Lago.
After lengthy efforts by the National Archives throughout much of 2021 to get Mr. Trump to turn over the material he had taken with him — considered government property under the Presidential Records Act — Mr. Trump turned over 15 boxes of material in January 2022. The boxes turned out to contain highly sensitive material with classified markings, prompting a Justice Department investigation.
Last August, federal agents descended on Mar-a-Lago to conduct an extraordinary search that turned up material that Mr. Trump had failed to turn over in response to a subpoena months earlier demanding the return of any classified documents still in his possession.
The Justice Department has repeatedly questioned Mr. Trump’s level of cooperation with the efforts to recover the documents, saying that it had recovered more than 100 documents containing classified markings even after an attestation by one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers that a “diligent search” by his legal team had not turned up any further materials.
Mr. Trump still faces other ongoing criminal investigations. They include Mr. Smith’s inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to hold onto power following his election loss — and how they led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol — and an investigation by a prosecutor in Georgia into his attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss in that vital swing state. Mr. Trump is scheduled to go on trial in the Manhattan criminal case next March.
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